Zuzies (40-17 30th Ave., Astoria)
Free Delivery 11am-10pm (718) 406-9600
*** Zuzies Grand Opening with open bar & hors d'oeuvres 7-10pm this coming Saturday, August 7th... RSVP here***
I am an omnivore. Always have been, and god-willing always will be. If it's delicious, I'll eat it. Even if it's strange, but there's a unique story or cultural significance behind it, I'll try it at least once (see prior posts regarding various offals or grasshopper tacos). I do, however, have numerous friends who are less daring eaters, and also several who are vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, and every other finicky diet variety... some for religious reasons, some for health reasons, some for no good reason at all.
I don't judge others for their culinary preferences, but it saddens me greatly that one of my favorite social encounters in New York City, dining out, is limited by very few places where my gluten-free comrades, lactose-intolerant companions, beloved herbivores, and the burger fanatics in my life can find a common menu that meets all of their needs, where we can each find platters that fit our preferences, yet everyone have a delicious meal. With very few exceptions, I typically do not enjoy vegan restaurants. Some dish names that make me annoyed and teetering on angry (yes, these are real menu items offered at New York eating establishments) include: unchicken caesar salad, philly not-steak, meatless loaf (why would anyone willingly choose to use the word "loaf" for an entree unless it were meatloaf?), facon (yes, as in fake bacon... c'mon), not dogs (are you serious?), and the worst ever... 4skins (four potato skins with soy cheddar and tofu sour cream).
Besides the last one on the list, which is just plain revolting, the other vegetarian creative names seem to only serve to remind meat-eaters that what they are eating is imitation, and to remind the vegetarians just how pitifully their concoctions taste absolutely nothing like the real thing. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with being vegetarian. But call a spade a spade. Tofu in a peppercorn mushroom cream sauce should be called just that... not "Unsteak au Poivre" or some other ridiculously absurd approximation of the carnivorous equivalent.
When I learned that Mix Cafe + Lounge was transforming its kitchen and dining room to become a restaurant headed by a chef with a strong background in vegan and vegetarian cuisine, I became instantly leery. And when I learned that the menu would feature several gourmet burgers (real beef burgers, not some strange "unburger") I became somewhat confused. Could it be possible that a restaurant was opening in Astoria where finally I could invite my vegan friends and still safely enjoy some protein across the table? And if the menu was truly going to be that eclectic, was it even realistic that it could be deliciously executed, as well?
After my fifth meal at the newly opened restaurant, I can wholeheartedly say that Zuzies has seemingly achieved the impossible. A hollistic menu that caters to nearly every kind of eater, with simply delicious recipes all across the board. I'm not ashamed to admit that some of the items that I later found out were vegan may actually top the list of my favorites; and they have also divined a burger that very well may be my favorite burger anywhere, not just in Astoria.
Susan Burdian, Chef-Owner of Zuzies, has been a passionate home cook and dinner party enthusiast for most of her adult life. A few years ago she even earned a degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute. An advocate of simple foods with big flavors, she has created a brilliantly diverse and delicious menu that showcases vegan and vegetarian options that any meat eater could enjoy, alongside a phenomenal selection of meaty dishes, as well. Her favorite flavor profile is sweet & spicy, which is evident throughout many of the plates. What impressed me the most, however, is that she offers several healthy options without the elitist mentality I so often associate with vegetarian-focused chefs. Even more impressive, beyond some exquisitely balanced flavors, each dish on the menu also boasts a playful contrast of textures.
Chef Susan also sources fresh local ingredients (i.e. breads from Long Island City and desserts from Martha's Country Bakery) and utilizes only eco-friendly delivery materials. This is gourmet comfort food at its very best. Here's just a sample of some of the favorite dishes my friends and I have enjoyed during Zuzies soft opening.
The Southern Burger ($11.95 includes a pile of french fries) features a house-seasoned beef patty with fresh corn salsa, melted boursin cheese, and fried onion strings. The toasted bun is buttery and soft, the burger flawlessly grilled, with a smooth and creamy blanket of herbed cheese, juicy kernels of sweet corn, and the salty crunch of fried onion strings. Another favorite burger, the Umami Burger, is dressed with Italian herb butter, caramelized onions, a parmesan crisp, roasted portobello, oven dried tomatoes, melted gruyere cheese, and truffle aioli. My mouth waters every single time this burger crosses my mind. Simply brilliant...
For an additional 50 cents, french fries (which will soon change to steak fries, with an option of sweet potato fries) can be accompanied by any number of gourmets dips and drizzles, including citrus-jalapeno, honey-wasabi, and avocado-cilantro, just to name a few.
The fried shrimp roll is an utterly drool-inducing variation on an East Coast classic. A toasted bun drizzled with chipotle aioli, then loaded with crisp panko-breaded shrimp, crowned with an asian coleslaw tossed in a thai chili sauce. ($9.95)
Chocolate and sausage are two things I never would have paired, but never say never; now I cannot fathom any tastier duet. The Chocolate & Chorizo panini is the absolutely perfect marriage of sweet and savory. Sauteed spicy chorizo is draped with melted pepper jack cheese, with just a whisper of sweet chocolate drizzled over the fillings before being grilled between two pieces of sourdough. This is one of my personal favorites, and an absolute must-try. ($7.95)
The mushroom spring rolls are another one of Chef Susan's signature dishes. Flaky fried pastry wrapped around marinated crimini mushrooms, served with avocado-cilantro crema. And these delicious parcels are 100% vegan, and 100% delicious. ($9.95)
I've actually had dreams about the cheesy deliciousness that is the pesto mac & cheese ($7.95). A ceramic boat of pasta tossed with sharp cheddar and basil pesto, baked with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping.
Probably my personal favorite of the vegan offerings is the flavor-explosive lasagna salad. A terrine of zucchini, broccoli, cherry tomato, & green peas is zigzagged with sun-dried tomato drizzle, pistachio-basil pesto, and then topped with a whipped pine nut faux ricotta. If fresh vegetables could always taste this good, I might actually be able to go without filet mignon or chicken breast for quite a long time. ($9.95)
The Roman Gnocchi is unlike any pasta pillows I have ever tried before. Categorized on the menu as a small plate ($7.95) two golden crispy, cheesy semolina discs are dressed with ribbons of a rich and bold bleu cheese cream sauce, sprinkled with crunchy walnuts. If bleu cheese isn't your preference, try it with the portobello mushroom gravy.
The chipotle turkey meatloaf is a little different than the kind your grandma used to make, and honestly one of the most delicious sandwiches on the menu. A fresh Italian hero houses a hearty slice of the most tender and tangy meatloaf, kissed with ribbons of chipotle drizzle, on a bed of fried onion strings. ($11.95)
Although you can substitute chicken breast for any of the burgers, if you're gonna go poultry, try the Mexican Telera Sandwich. A soft bun houses tender, marinated, grilled chicken breast smothered in melted oaxaca cheese, tangy roasted poblano dressing, refried black beans, tomato, red onion, and avocado wedges, with a side of grilled sweet plantains ($8.95).
Zuzies features several other salads, sandwiches, and tapas on one of the most sublimely inventive and refreshingly healthy menus to hit Astoria in a long time. Currently, the dining room is only open from 6-10pm, although they plan to open for lunch within the next month. The interior of Mix has undergone several recent improvements, and new tables will arrive shortly to replace the present lounge-style seating. Delivery service, however, is already available from 11am to 10pm daily.
Zuzies is also open for Sunday Brunch with Sunday Morning Mimosa, featuring several of the gourmet burger combinations, along with special breakfast additions such as huevos rancheros with chorizo hash (pictured above).
Other brunch favorites include an absolutely phenomenal eggs benedict with curry cajun hash browns, as well as breakfast tacos, french toast, and a monte cristo.
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The grand opening celebration is this Saturday, August 7th, featuring an open bar from 7 to 10pm sponsored by Voli Vodka and several hors d'oeuvres from Zuzies, followed by a cash bar. The evening is hosted by award-winning comedy team, Sunday Morning Mimosa, and features several live music performances, as well. If you think you might like to stop by, visit the link at the top of this post to RSVP.